FORT SMITH — As a homeschooling family, Michael and Lisa De Atley and their four children enjoy studying and learning together. Last year, they began a journey of faith together that gradually led them to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Immaculate Conception Church.
The couple, who met while studying at Sparks Regional Medical Center in 1995, had grown up with very different concepts of God.
“I was taught that God is love,” Lisa, who grew up in the Baptist faith, said.
“We had hell driven into us for 45 minutes each Sunday. It was ‘turn or burn,’” Michael, who grew up in the Assembly of God Church, said.
They got married in the Methodist Church and attended several different churches after they married, finally settling on Eastside Baptist Church, where their two sons were baptized.
“We never felt at home,” Michael said. “Lisa read books on heaven and hell, passing them on to me, and we started digging into the Bible together.”
As they discovered answers to their questions, they began asking another homeschooling parent, Sherry McCoy, about Catholicism.
“Michael started asking questions last spring,” McCoy said. “He wanted to know why Catholics made sacrifices during Lent and why we followed some other practices. I loaned them books by Scott Hahn (a well-known convert), and they asked for more each time they finished one. I could really see the wheels turning in Michael’s head.”
McCoy invited them to Mass at Immaculate Conception Church last spring.
“We immediately fell in love with the Catholic Church,” Lisa said. “When Michael suggested we go to RCIA I agreed immediately.”
As the family discussed attending RCIA together, all of the children — Jonathan, 15; Christopher, 13; Kitty, 10; and Annabelle, 8 — agreed to attend classes.
“Immaculate Conception’s RCIA program has separate classes for teenagers and children,” Lisa said. “Sherry McCoy, our sponsor, asked two of her daughters, Anna, 16, and Isabella, 10, to attend classes with our children so that they would feel more comfortable.”
“Anna was always able to answer all my questions,” Jonathan said. “It was so good to have someone my own age to talk about faith with.”
McCoy said her daughter Anna was able to attend RCIA in lieu of her regular confirmation classes, and that both Anna and Jonathan benefited from the RCIA experience.
The De Atleys loved following the liturgical year and participating in Catholic traditions during Advent.
“We had an Advent wreath at home,” Lisa said. “Four children and four candles worked out perfectly. Christopher’s birthday was on the third Sunday of Advent and he lit the pink candle. Midnight Mass was so beautiful, and the music before Mass just flowed. When we look back at our years in ‘full Gospel’ churches, now we feel as if we missed so much.”
Like many Christians, the De Atleys believed that Catholics didn’t read the Bible but have come to cherish the Liturgy of the Word and reading their Bible at home.
This Lent, the family received the sacrament of reconciliation, and despite some worries and concerns, came to see the beauty of the sacrament.
“Father John (Antony, Immaculate Conception pastor) was so wonderful,” Jonathan said. “I was worried about confessing my sins to anyone other than God but Miss Peggy (Brandebura, RCIA coordinator) explained that Father John represents God. He was great. He didn’t ask any questions. I have a clean slate.”
“Now in our home when someone does something wrong someone will say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to confess that,’” Michael laughed.
They look at the Easter Vigil as the beginning of a faith journey that will last the rest of their lives.
Brandebura said she will miss seeing the family at RCIA each week.
“The De Atley family has worked their way into my heart,” she said. “From their enthusiasm and inquisitiveness to their absolute faith in God, they have been an inspiration to me. They did not take their journey to Catholicism lightly. They studied; they prayed; they questioned. Each family member, including the children, made this decision on their own. They supported each other but did not make this decision for each other.
“The De Atleys have said that going to RCIA each Tuesday is the highlight of their week,” McCoy said. “I think it’s become mine, too. I had considered becoming an RCIA sponsor for a number of years and, knowing these people so well, and thinking how nice it would be for them to have someone they knew as their sponsor, I decided that now was the time to begin. This is a life-changing decision for the whole family.”
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